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January 20, 2015

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Does management system integration make sense?

By James Clayton

All ISO standards are reviewed every five years to establish if a revision is required to keep them current and relevant for the marketplace. The future environmental management system standard, ISO 14001:2015, will respond to latest trends and ensure it is compatible with other management system standards such as ISO 9001 by incorporating the High Level Structure (HLS) for Management System Standards (MSS) (also referred to as the ‘Annex SL structure’).

The occupational health and safety management system standard, ISO 45001 (the replacement for BS OHSAS 18001), is also under development with an intended release date of October 2016.

The HLS means that both the upcoming environmental and health and safety (EHS) standards will follow the same overall structure. This will include a requirement to understand the organisation’s context (e.g. the environment in which it operates, including its supply chain and local communities) in order to better manage risk, with more emphasis made on leaders within organisations to promote EHS management.

So with a clear move towards harmonising the management system standards that many organisations have been using as a model for some time, a key question many leaders are asking is, “does a fully integrated EHS management system make sense?”

Before an organisation embarks on the journey to integration it is perhaps worth considering what ‘integrated’ means and whether it’s the right thing to do.

Many leaders may believe their management systems are already integrated, when in reality they just have common EHS processes and documentation in place. In many respects, integration is more of a reflection on how EHS is managed, not what the systems look like. For example, does your system give you a holistic picture of EHS risks and opportunities, facilitating the evaluation of potentially conflicting aspects in the business context?

In deciding whether integration makes sense for your organisation, various factors should be considered:

  • What is your risk profile? If the bias is heavily towards either environmental (e.g. a global services company with a large property portfolio) or health and safety risk (e.g. a metal components machining company), integration may not add much value. If the picture is more balanced (e.g. if you are a ‘COMAH’ site) then there is potentially much greater benefit.
  • How mature are the different management systems? If you have had certification to ISO 14001 for some time and have the intention to formalise health and safety management, this could be a good opportunity to integrate.

A framework for integrating management systems, in the form of the publicly available specification, PAS 99, has been around for some time so what are the relative benefits and possible drawbacks of integration?

Potential benefits of EHS management system integration:

  • There is less chance of a ‘silo’ mentality and ‘empire building’.
  • The system should provide enhanced opportunity for cooperation and coordination.
  • Gaining a holistic picture of risks and opportunities means there is less chance of certain aspects conflicting and should assist with putting decisions into the context of the organisation, e.g. hazardous substances management; the environmental manager may want to contain a contaminant to prevent exposure to nearby communities but the health & safety manager may want to vent it to atmosphere away from employees.
  • Less duplication, ‘paperwork’ and bureaucracy should reduce costs and complexity.
  • It can give stakeholders more confidence that you are taking the issues seriously.
  • Systems for internal audits, document control, training and administration are more effective.
  • Harmonised communication processes and messages.

Drawbacks may include:

  • Possible resistance during initial integration due to differing management styles.
  • Initial cost and effort could be substantial as, if done properly, it will require more than simply a merging of documentation.
  • Poorly timed integration efforts (e.g. in an organisation planning a substantial acquisition) may lead to wasted effort.

As a final thought, regardless of the current or planned future level of integration of your EHS management systems, they all need to be thoroughly integrated with the overall business management system. Regrettably, this is an area where many organisations still fail to place sufficient emphasis.

James Clayton CMIOSH CEnv is an independent consultant, auditor and trainer and founder of EHS, the environment, health and safety marketplace.

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